Monday, April 1, 2013

Messing in Downtown Gatlinburg

Our family never does anything fast.  Whenever the girls and I need to be somewhere at a certain time, it’s almost a guarantee that we’re going to arrive late.  It’s not on purpose, mind you, and it is something I’ve grown used to even if it does still annoy me.  The girls have grown used to me being annoyed.  Multiply our normal four by three and there was no way we were going to leave our cabin when I was wanting to.  Of course, it didn’t help that we all stayed up into the wee hours of the morning trying to empty the bottles of booze we had brought with us.  Add to the hangover wakeups, breakfast, and showers, and you can see why it was almost lunch before we managed to climb into our vehicles.

Still, by eleven we were winding our way down the mountain, passing the Smokey Mountain National Park and fighting the traffic into Downtown Gatlinburg.  Our time was increased as we dawdled, angering the drivers around us, as we took in the sites.  The two things I noticed the most was how many pancake houses there were as well as the abundance of miniature golf courses.  There were mini attractions such as Wonder Works and the Titanic and if it weren’t for the mountains, I would have thought I was back home visiting Orlando.

Eventually, we locked our cars in a parking garage and headed for the streets.  The sun was high overhead and a slight chill kept our jackets on, allowing for a comfortable stroll among the crowd that was beginning to fill the strip.

Our first stop was the Art House, a gallery portraying the creative work of local artists.  It was a two-story gallery with paintings, sculptures, and other fantastic creations.  After browsing the small rooms, absorbing the art work, I left our personal tourist group and made my way to the lady behind the counter.  Part of the fun of exploring a new area is meeting the local residents and Louise Bales was a lady well worth the visit.  She told us all about Gatlinburg’s Arts and Crafts community, the largest group of artists in one area anywhere in the United States, with over 100 artists and craftsmen.

In 1937, John Cowden decided he didn’t want to work on the streets in Downtown Gatlinburg and went home.  Furniture maker, Carl Huskey did, as well, and invited the visitors of Gatlinburg to venture to their homes along Glades Road to see their creations.  The tourists did and have been ever since, bringing the life and new business to a growing community of artists.

Louise is part of the City Dwellers, a group of five elderly women who, for seventeen years, have been creating pottery, jewelry, hand weaving, and so much more in a historic 1933 building.  It was definitely a place we wanted to visit, although with only two days there we knew we wouldn’t have time.  See you next year, though, Louise.

She did point us in the right direction, however, for our Downtown romp, and suggested “must sees” such as the Old Smokey Candy Kitchen and the Donut Friar.  With a promise to visit again, we said our goodbyes and ventured back into the sun. 

Back home, I love an afternoon stroll Downtown. It’s full of small cafes, thrift shops, antique stores, and specialty shops for those with an eclectic bent.  Downtown Gatlinburg seemed a mixture of specialty shops and carnival attractions.  There was even a target shooting game and a place that sold funnel cakes.  Ripley’s of Ripley’s Believe It or Not had a myriad of attractions for any who had the cost of admission.  There was Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies with a Penguin Playhouse that we did after lunch, Ripley’s Odditorium, Ripley’s Marvelous Mirror Maze, Ripley’s Moving Theater in 5D, which I have no idea what 5D means, Ripley’s Guinness World Records, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, which Teri wanted nothing to do with, and two mini -golf attractions (I told you it was popular there) Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm and Ripley’s Davy Crockett.  I think they had it all covered.  Oh, they even had Ripley’s Candy Factory.  The attractions were complete.

In many ways Downtown Gatlinburg was your typical tourist trap and having lived in one for forty years, I know what I’m referring to.  There were massive amounts of box-shaped gift stores selling cheesy shirts, coffee mugs and shot glasses.  You could purchase an ash tray with Gatlinburg stenciled across the bottom or an expensive cheap-looking picture frame to commemorate your occasion.  We bought one of each.

However, there were also several sights that could only be found along the busy street.  Between a Best Western and No Way Jose’s Mexican Restaurant (I did not make that name up) a stream flowed, running under the bridge and down the mountain.  While people paced the streets, shouting and laughing, and traffic whizzed by honking and blaring their music, two men in waders stood in a little pond fly-fishing.  They tuned everything around them out and enjoyed their afternoon in the freezing mountain water.  They even caught a fish!

Business was so good Downtown that pedestrians truly ruled the road.  While there were lights and crossing signals at all the major blocks, sometimes those crosswalks were too far away.  In the middle of those long blocks were other brick crosswalks and the minute someone wanted to cross the street, traffic stopped. There were no signs; no warnings.  You saw a gap in the traffic and you stepped off knowing that they weren’t going to run down.


The pedestrians were as plentiful as the cars on the road and quite often crossing the street was quite a bit like playing chicken.  Everyone was in a rush to get to the other side and few wanted to make room for anyone else.  They were probably all afraid that theirs would be the time the motorists were tired of waiting and ran them over.  If I was the one behind the wheel, I know the thought would have been stewing in my mind.  Luckily, there wasn’t a vehicle rebellion while we were there and everyone crossed safely.

Around two o’clock, my stomach decided it had waited long enough for lunch and so I called a halt to the shopping madness.  Our cars were already overloaded as it was, so I had no idea how everyone was going to get everything home, anyway.  That didn’t stop us from buying, however.  While No Way Jose’s seemed like a fun choice, we were too far away from a private bathroom for Mexican Cuisine, so I chose the Hard Rock Café, which just happened to be the smallest Hard Rock I have ever been in.  It was also an adventure all to itself, but you’ll have to come back Wednesday to read all about it as well as our moonshine tasting experience.  See you then for more adventures in Messing.
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